There we were, driving down Highway 2 on hazardous roads when it hit me like a bolt of lightening during a Thunder Snowstorm.
An epiphany. One of those a-ha! moments that suddenly makes everything crystal clear.
We were headed toward Hayward, Wisconsin for the American Birkebeiner (www.birkie.com) hours after the Mother of all Snowstorms, and it was ugly. Real. Ugly. The car alternated between sliding into icy ruts and thumping along a washboard all the way to the Wisconsin border. It was a completely lousy day to be on the road.
The person in the driver’s seat was determined to make it to Hayward for his 21st year as a participant of the Birkie. As we made our way (slowly) toward Wisconsin, I thought about the other twenty times we’ve loaded up the car and headed to Hayward. Some years we’d traveled bare roads during weird, unseasonably warm February days while he worried that the trails would be bare by race time. One year it actually happened, and the race was canceled an hour after we arrived at the hotel. And then there were all of those other years when we drove through blizzard-like conditions, rain, or sleet to make it to Hayward.
We were young and child-free the first year he skied the Birkie. Between that year and the next, we jumped through all the hoops social workers in two different countries could set up and were waiting for a son. Two years, and two races later, it was a daughter we were waiting to meet. From that point on, preparing for our annual Birkie Weekend Getaway meant a whole lot of planning for me as I lined up babysitters to stay with the babies who became the toddlers who became the children that became the teenagers who are now the adults who call us Mom and Dad. These days, the only one who needs a nanny is our senior citizen of a dog who tends to get mopey without us. Maybe, by next year, it will mean simply turning the key in the lock and driving away without worrying about anyone but us. Maybe not.
As a Master Pain Avoider, I do not understand why anyone would willingly ski 34 miles unless they were being chased by ravenous wolves or a homicidal maniac wielding a machete. Seriously. This is the truth. Squeezing into a Lycra jumpsuit, going out in subzero temps, skiing up hills and falling down at the bottom of every one? Not my idea of how to spend a Saturday, thanks. Over the past two decades as a spectator, I have watched more than one skier cross the finish line on Main street in Hayward only to do an icy face plant in front of the volunteers after struggling to complete a race that they knew they didn’t have a snowball’s chance in You-Know-Where of actually winning. I am awed by the level of dedication it takes to train for something like the Birkebeiner. And yet, thousands of people do, every year, returning to Hayward, year after year. They do it in good snow years, and poor snow years, and all the years in between, starting in Cable, racing toward Hayward. Cheered on by spectators ringing brass cowbells.
The man behind the wheel last Friday who was driving on roads that, on any other February day and for any other reason, he would have avoided is one of those guys. But here’s the deal. You see, he caught the a bug two decades ago and it makes him a little wacky every February. It’s called Birkie Fever.
That’s what they call it. Birkie Fever.
It took me 21 years, but I finally know why.